Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rashmi bookmarks “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra” (The Phantom of the Opera)

The story of the Opera Ghost, aka Angel of Music, by French writer Gaston Leroux has been adapted so many times in the world of Arts from stage to film, I knew there had to be a very solid book at the base of it all - I was still pleasantly surprised by just how fantastic this book is!

Set in the Paris Opera House, this is the story - narrated by the author - of Erik, and how he became the phantom of the opera. The story of the central protagonist is told to us through the experiences of the various members of the Opera, and I thought that was brilliant; we never actually him - he appears to us in bits and pieces through a glimpse here and a voice there, and that’s what truly makes him a phantom.

The book starts off as a mystery - from the strange ‘Box Five’ to the two brutal deaths, and finally the disappearance of Christine Daaé, the soprano. That’s where the story changes its tone, and the focus shifts to the “love story” of Christine and Erik. Here is where we get to know Erik, the ghost who alternately strikes terror and love in the hearts of all he meets.

As Raoul embarks on a search for the kidnapped Christine, he is joined by ‘The Persian’, and yet another layer is added to the story with the unfolding of Erik’s history. On one level, the narrative relays the story of a man who went from the glory of a brilliant architect and musical maestro to the grime of a man condemned to death and on the run; on another level, the love story moves from love for a genius to horror at “the face of a rotting corpse” to forgiveness and a final farewell.

From Persia to Paris, from the rosy hours of Mazenderan to the underground torture chamber of fire and water, from the terrible lunacy of a physically deformed phantom to the tragic brilliance of Don Juan Triumphant … from an exiled loner to a rejected lover, this was the very moving tale of a man who became a ghost, and I really enjoyed it a lot.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rashmi bookmarks “Torchwood: Exodus Code”

Co-authored by siblings John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman, Exodus Code is the latest Torchwood novel, based on the BBC science fiction television series Torchwood.

(Allow me to indulge in a little hero-worshipping before I go on … John Barrowman is one of the most awesome people on this planet. I follow as much of his work online as I possibly can; actor, singer, dancer, writer, Barrowman is the kind of brilliant entertainer that comes around once in a very long while. What earns my greatest respect however is the fact that he is such a beacon of hope for the human race in general - this larger-than-life person, with his unbelievably positive and open nature is such a living F-U to the prejudice, hatred and negativity that continues to doom large parts of our world till date).

Ok, getting back to the book review! I loved the opening sequence of events as the story dives into a strange geological phenomenon occurring in 1930 Peru. Investigating some mysterious symbols with co-pilot Renso, Captain Jack Harkness crashes into the middle of the mountains, and into the midst of an ancient prophesy involving the Cuari tribe.

The story then moves forward to present-day Wales where, starting with Gwen Cooper, we see women falling prey to violent emotions, from frustration and anger to heightened sexuality and thoughts of murder. I did feel that the story slowed down during this section, as quite a large part seemed to concentrate on just setting up the premise. In fact as we follow Jack Harkness in his desperate run to save the earth and travel on the Ice Maiden, there were large sections which touched upon some sci-fi technicalities, but rather than delve deeper, quickly tapered off to discuss the characters’ sexual fantasies, which was quite disappointing. I especially remember thinking that the story surrounding Vlad and Eva read more like some cheesy romance novel.

The story did pick up after that - the last section, the last 6 hours 20 minutes of the countdown in Peru, was especially exciting! Events happened at a frantic pace where, along with the participants, I was quite taken by surprise at the unexpected twists. The central idea of this story, and how Captain Jack Harkness comes to be the one tied inextricably to the core of the earth and its survival, was brilliant. What he had to do to save the world made him a truly great superhero! (And yes, this was a Jack Harkness story all the way; even though Gwen Cooper, the only other survivor of Torchwood is featured in it, I did not see her play as pivotal a role as she is capable of).

One thing I do have to say in conclusion though - since this book follows the sequence of events of the T.V. show, we are unfortunately limited by what happened during Miracle Day. In my opinion, Miracle Day, while a good show, was just not Torchwood. Reading Exodus Code reminded me every now and then “we’re not in Cardiff anymore”.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rashmi bookmarks “Never Bet the Devil Your Head”

Edgar Allan Poe’s mastery of the gothic and the mysterious is undeniable and unchallenged. Although I have my favourites of course, any time I read Poe, I find it hard to pick just one to discuss. When I came across this short story recently, it was such a refreshing change - not just to archetypal Poe, but also within the story and the expectations it undermines - that I decided to pick this story for today’s blog.

Never Bet the Devil Your Head - narrated by the author himself - was a story written in response to literary critics saying that he had never written a moral tale. Poe obediently starts with the subtitle, “A Tale With a Moral”. Where do you think the story goes from there! Well, initially it seemed to be what it set out to be, as the narrator tells us the story of his friend Toby Dammit (the humour of his last name originating from his mother’s constant yelling at him to come here Toby dammit, do this Toby dammit and do that Toby dammit, was brilliant!) Dammit, the man of many vices is prone to making bets, his favourite one being “I’ll bet the devil my head.”

Matters reach a head the day they come to a turnstile and Dammit bets the devil his head he could jump over it, and a little old man appears from nowhere to see this challenge through. This is where the fun begins! I’ll let you discover what happens next; suffice to say, someone of Poe’s majestic calibre would rather present transcendentalists with “dog meat” than appease their obscure mysticism.

This story was such a precious discovery! It danced to amazing rhythms of classic comedy and scathing satire, but always with an underlying sense of the macabre that is trademark Poe.

I will end with this quote: it has nothing to do with this story, but was part of the collection, and something that I feel bears repeating - especially to disheartened writers across the world that wonder at the mass popularity of sub standard books and talent less authors. In a “Letter to B----” written in 1836, Poe says: “… That they have followers proves nothing. No Indian prince has to his palace more followers than a thief to the gallows”.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Rashmi bookmarks “A Series of Unfortunate Events” - Books 10-13

A journey that started with ‘The Bad Beginning’ has finally come to ‘The End’. I have quite enjoyed Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” - an experience that turned out to be much more than what I had anticipated. From an adventure story that was sometimes ridiculous, sometimes dangerous, this Series ended up being a slice of life, and one complete story arc rather than 13 separate adventures that 3 children go on.

The Slippery Slope starts the wrap up; it introduces the first of many returning characters from the Baudelaires’ past and also delves deeper into the search for the ubiquitous VFD. This book also reveals a great turning point in the character of the Baudelaires - an issue that will be addressed in detail later, and a matter that lay at the heart of the great Schism.

The Grim Grotto was for me, visually, the most interesting book! The search for an all-important sugar bowl takes us down into a submarine, and from there, into the heart of a grotto. Miles underwater, we are faced with many dangers from the poisonous Medusoid Mycelium, to Count Olaf, to The Great Unknown (one of the many unresolved issues).

The Penultimate Peril completes a circle, as Briny Beach becomes the starting point of the final lap of this adventure - led this time by Kit Snicket, further strengthening the link between the author and the main characters. I thought this and the last book of the series were very strong - all the characters and themes came together cohesively in a fantastic finale at Hotel Denouement. The curiously angled hotel with its mysterious reflection in the water became the scene of some of the greatest drama and action of this series.

The End, the thirteenth book of this series, was truly awesome. As we are washed up on a secluded island inhabited by strange people led by the dubious Ishmael, a lot of our questions do get answered - but equally, so many remain unanswered that we realize that there can never really be an End. Yes, we get a little more insight into VFD and the Baudelaires’ history and the great Schism, and even see the original Series of Unfortunate Events … but when all is said and done, nothing is neatly tied up with a pretty little bow. As Lemony Snicket notes, just as The Bad Beginning was not really a beginning, The End was not really an end, but more ‘in medias res’. Perhaps the greatest question raised, pertains to definitions of noble and evil. This book did not continue in the humorous, over-the-top melodramatic vein as its predecessors (which was a lot of fun while it lasted) but became a gentle comment on readily accepted demarcations of good and bad, as the perennially good Baudelaire children were shown to possess a villainous streak and the established villain Count Olaf was shown to have a beautiful, even tragic, side.

I really liked the way the story went through a range of emotions from depiction of a series of unfortunate events to unravelling a mystery in a very cohesive manner - woven, within the story by common characters and such running themes as Fire; and outside it, by wonderful storytelling elements from impressive illustrations to strategically placed literary and cultural references! Overall, this was a very enjoyable work by an author whose “hobbies in life include nervous apprehension, increasing dread, and wondering if his enemies were real after all”.